"Basis of Control" pt. XIV October, 1999 Stallions Gate, NM "Sam?" Al leaned over his friend. "You still here, pal?" Sam stirred slowly, then opened his eyes. "Yeah, still here," he replied, pulling himself into a sitting position. "Geez, thirty minutes of sleep at a time do not make for a restful nap." Al grinned wryly. "Sorry." Sam waved him away. "I don't mind. You take care of what you needed to?" "Not really," Al said quietly. "But either way it's finished." Sam's expression became uncertain. "That doesn't sound too positive." Al sat on the bed across from Sam, his leg awkwardly stretched out in front of him. "Guess I just don't feel positive." *Careful...* Beth had asked him how much he was going to tell Sam, and he'd said, quite certainly, "None of it," but now, actually talking with the best friend he'd ever had, he found it difficult. Sam could get practically anything out of him that he wanted, but he couldn't afford to tell him this, no matter how much better it may make either one of them feel. He'd kept this secret for years and he couldn't share it now. It was a protective silence. *For who?* Al suddenly felt very selfish. "Is it something you'd like to talk about?" *Hell, yes!* "No." "Al..." Sam looked gently at him with that inviting look, always making things easier for Al to spill his guts. "I failed you, Sam," Al whispered before he could stop himself. The conversation had taken a turn for rough waters and Al was making it harder on himself every second to keep his silence. "I couldn't possibly believe that." Al snorted. "There you go, thinking with your heart again. You'll never learn, kid." "I trust your judgement, always have. And whether it was verbally or not, even consciously or not, I was trusting you to do what you thought was best when I stepped into that Accelerator." Sam paused. "I always felt guilty that I did that to you, that I did it without telling you." Al's laugh was short. "That's because you knew I'd stop you." Sam shook his head. "You probably wouldn't let anyone use it but you." Al flinched. "Yeah. Right." Sam grinned hesitantly, as if sure something was up, but uncertain of what. "Okay, maybe me, if you were sure it was safe." The admiral exhaled loudly. "Whatever you say, Sam." Sam put aside his attempt at lightheartedness. "Al, why can't you just tell me?" "Because, Sam, I can't!" Al stood suddenly, almost losing his balance without the crutches in hand. "Don't you get it? I can't! That's my job, right? I follow you around through time, watching everything you do and watching all those people you help and lying to you right and left. Isn't that it?" The instant he said it, he regretted it. "What do you mean?" Sam's voice was very quiet. Al wanted to run from the room. He wanted to erase everything he'd said since the moment he'd walked in, but he couldn't. Only Sam undid wrongs in the past, not him. "Sam...do you trust me?" "Yes." The answer came so promptly that it hurt. "Then trust me when I say I betrayed you. Trust that I made a mistake and I can't ever make things right again." He could see Sam wanted to deny everything. "So...you made a mistake. You're human, Al. Everyone makes mistakes." "Not like me," Al replied mournfully. "When I screw up, I _screw_up_." Sam opened his mouth, but it was clear he didn't know what to say. Al saved him from floundering. "Something happened that I shouldn't have let happen. I shouldn't have agreed, but I did. And, now that you're home, I see how wrong I was." Sam reached out a hand. "Al, you can tell me the future of the people I interact with, but you can't see yours. You couldn't know I'd leap into Jonathan and end up here. And I trust-" Al started to protest, but Sam shook his head. "I _trust_ that you will do what you think is right at the time. And if you turn out to be wrong, well, it happens." Al shook his head. "You're way too trusting." "Maybe," Sam admitted, "but I think I know what to put it in. Or who." "I'm not so sure." "Well I _am_," Sam replied, a little exasperated. Al stared steadily at him, then smiled slightly. "I don't know about you, kid." Sam just grinned. "Just promise me you'll forgive yourself for- " he hesitated "-whatever it is." "I bet you didn't realize when you started putting things right that I was gonna take this long to fix." Sam laughed merrily. "I certainly don't get as much grief from everyone else." "Hey, you spend all your energy looking after the entire world - _somebody's_ got to look out for your interests." Sam's gaze was gentle. "And you wonder why I have so much faith in you." He shook his head fondly. "Sit back down and talk to me, Al. While I'm still here." Al felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his chest. Nothing had changed except maybe the way he was looking at things. He didn't remember too much later of what he and Sam spoke of, just that the topic started off on rather uncertain footing but, as the hours passed, drifted into the ease with which things used to exist before Sam leaped. They talked about physics, current events, details of leaping from both ends. Al spoke of his daughters - what they were doing, where they lived, how much he loved them. Sam told Al more about his brother, about growing up on a farm, about how he felt when he first met the man at the vending machine. Whatever they mentioned inevitably led to another subject: sports, the environment, Santa Fe, Beth, Verbena, Tina... Al never mentioned Donna. They talked into the early hours of morning, sprawled out on Sam's bed or in his easy chair. When exhaustion finally claimed Al (as he hadn't had Sam's advantage of the extra hours of sleep), Sam just smiled at his friend. "See ya, Al," he whispered. Without comment to anyone, he left the complex and the area, escorted by security, got in a taxi outside of town, and told the driver to take him to Santa Fe. Somewhere along the trip, he leaped out. Al woke up when Beth came into the room early that afternoon. He glanced around the room in shock. "Where's Sam?" he demanded of his wife. She reached for his crutches. "Security said he left late this morning." "Left?" "He had them drive him almost into town and went on his own from there. Probably knew he was going to leap out." "Oh." Al sighed as he accepted the crutches. "I already miss him." "I know," she whispered, sitting next to him and rubbing his back. He turned to her and smiled. "It was nice, though, being able to just spend some time with him." She just looked knowingly at him. "You didn't tell him about Donna, did you?" she said eventually. "No. But I think...I think part of him knew. Maybe not consciously, but he still knew." "Al...if I could have gone after you while you were in Vietnam, would you have wanted me to?" "No." His reply was instantaneous. Internally, he shuddered at the thought. She slipped her arm around his waist. "If I had anyway, would you have been angry?" He considered her. "Maybe, but I would have known it meant you loved me." She stared at the wall. "If I could have, Al, oh, I would have. There would have been no question. I always admired Donna's restraint in not leaping. It's always harder to wait, even if you do know the person you care about is still alive." He hugged her to him. "I guess she's done waiting, isn't she? And she died doing what she always wanted to do - trying to find her husband." They sat in silence a few moments until Al could no longer feel Sam's presence in the room. He would have to wait until Sam leaped in before he could feel it again. "You know, I think we deserve a vacation," he announced, grinning at her. "I think you're right. Do you want to go into Santa Fe?" The grin widened. "I wasn't thinking of _going_ anywhere," he clarified, kissing her deeply. Somewhere, someplace in between times, in between places, Sam Beckett waited for the one moment he had yet to visit - the moment when he could come home for good. +I hope you enjoyed the story. I will, unfortunately be away come Aug 1 for 4 months. I make it a policy to respond to any and all e-mails regarding my stories promptly, but I will (of course) be unable to do that if I get them after the morning of the 1st. I will be back in Dec (and already have another completed story to edit and post as well as a WIP). The new story is "Point of View" and is about "M.I.A", but with a twist - Al is the leaper instead of Sam. I'll let you think on that.
In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer! -amkt